Study Finds Higher Rates of Leukemia in 9/11 Responders and Recovery Workers

Investigators  discovered an increase in the incidence of leukemia in first responders and other recovery workers who were at the World Trade Center (WTC) site after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, compared with the general population.

In a new study published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum, researchers reviewed incidence of leukemia in more than 28,000 law enforcement officers, construction workers, telecommunications workers, and other general responders enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program. This program provides medical monitoring and treatment for responders at the WTC and related sites, as well as survivors who were in the New York City disaster area.

Most of the responders were white men who were, on average, 38 years old at the time of the attacks. Researchers identified 1,072 cancers in 999 individuals, with elevations in the risk of all cancers (standardized incidence ratio [SIR] = 1.09). Specifically, responders had higher incidences of prostate cancer (SIR=1.25), thyroid cancers (SIR=2.19), and leukemia (SIR=1.41). Smokers and older patients were found to be at increased risk.

During cleanup of the WTC site, which ended in June 2002, responders and recovery workers were exposed to asbestos, benzene, dioxins, and other toxins. Researchers were unable to identify a relationship between length or intensity of exposure and the development of certain cancers because records weren’t kept at the time.

As more time passes, researchers might discover higher rates of other cancers in these individuals, according to Henry Sacks, MD, co-author of the study and professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Latency varies and can be quite long,” said Dr. Sacks. “This shows us that even after many years the number of cancers is still increasing.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2020; Shapiro MZ, Wallenstein SR, Dasaro CR, et al. Cancer in general responders participating in World Trade Center Health Programs, 2003–2013. JNCI Cancer Spectrum. 2020;4:pkz090.